Project X

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Os the writer, director and star of Hedwig and the Angry Inch — the cult film about a glam-rocking transsexual — John Cameron Mitchell attracted a devoted, if ultimately somewhat specific, fanbase: to a legion of budding Morrisseys, he’s Oscar Wilde.

Hedwig was like a giant personal ad for me,” says Mitchell, who at thirty-nine has a smooth-faced, Zenlike suaveness. “A lot of people contacted me who were moved by it: gay people, straight people, whatever. There wasn’t a preponderance of anything except freaks.”

Mitchell’s new friends took him new places, like a foot-fetish club. He met a guy who makes tickling videos. But it was at the meeting of a downtown-NYC film discussion group — which dissolved into a casual orgy at the end of the night — that Mitchell had a moment. The son of Hedwig, he decided, would be a beast previously unseen in American indie film: it would have meaningful dialogue, a dramatic arc, robust camerawork and lots of hardcore screwing. Think Jules & Jim with genderfuck and literal three-way action.

“I’ve always been interested in capturing the part of pansexual New York that I live in, which you don’t see in film. And I just thought, why not?” says Mitchell. “And I’ve always liked porn. I just like it to be good.” He cites 1970s-era Falcon Videopacs and the shiny, happy gay pileups of the French director Jean-Daniel Cadinot. “Those movies had some nice plotlines, and they really made me think, ‘What if these people were real? What if I knew who they were?'”


Noble idea, one problem: how do you pitch a bukkake scene to Catherine Keener? Realizing that the usual indie suspects would be euphemistically attached to the next Selma Blair project when the casting call came, Mitchell set up a website, where he’s encouraging nonactors of all genders and sexual orientations to audition for The Sex Film Project. (The requirements: applicants should be “smart, able to act in an improvisational way and willing to have sex on camera.”) A script will be developed in a Cassavettes-style workshop; to determine sex-scene pairings, Mitchell will send his actors on dates to test their chemistry. “It’ll be just like Temptation Island!” he says. 

Aesthetically, Mitchell plans to trade porn’s Kmart cinematography for the trickery of Lars Von Trier. He has some vaguely psychedelic ideas for shooting the sex, like emulating the courtroom scene in Dancer in the Dark, which Von Trier shot with hundreds of still videocameras, then edited into a single sequence. “Shooting porn has become very standardized: you have a camera up the ass, another camera up the vagina,” says Mitchell. “I want the sex to look the way it does when you’re having it. You don’t necessarily see up your ass.”

Word! Of course, this sort of thing has been attempted before in Europe, where recent films like Fat Girl, Baise-Moi and Pola X teased audiences with the prospect of real actors having penetrative sex, but ultimately hedged their bets with prosthetic erections, porn stars, quick cut-aways and disembodied close-ups. 1999’s Romance and 2000’s Intimacy were franker but as dramatically satisfying as watching Astroglide dry, and none of them established a viable business model for the indie fuckfest.

Nevertheless, Mitchell has secured producers (Tim Perell and Howard Gertler, The Myth of Fingerprints, Wet Hot American Summer) with sights set on a $1 million budget. Filming is scheduled to start this fall. “My regular actor friends are saying, ‘What the fuck are you doing, and will you stop?'” says Mitchell with an amused sigh. “But I can’t. I guess I just like being fucked up.”

For more information, visit www.thesexfilmproject.com.  

© 2002 Michael Martin and Nerve.com.